By Zoran Kuzmanovich, Special contributor to US Youth Soccer
Nogueira's Two Goals Bring College Cup Back to North Carolina
WakeMed Field, Cary, NC - 2008 did not bring many surprises to women's soccer. Unlike 2007, which featured two first first-time finalists, the 2008 final brought out college women's soccer royalty, North Carolina and Notre Dame. Many of these players had faced each other in US Youth Soccer National Championship Series, and many of them had also played side by side on various national youth teams as products of US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program. By the time it was all over, the Tar Heels collected their 19th National Championship while Notre Dame suffered its only loss of the year.
Even though Notre Dame had won the last two meetings, North Carolina Coach Anson Dorrance enjoyed the role of the underdog: "Do you know how rare it is for us to come into an environment as a spoiler? … It is the most wonderful position to play for."
It was a local product, Casey Nogueira, who provided the wonder and the spoiling. Her two brilliant strikes showed that against Notre Dame, the third time is the charm for North Carolina. It was Nogueira's second goal, and she delivered it with two minutes left in the game after the Tar Heels had put withering pressured on the Notre Dame defense. Her first had come in the 51st minute on a solidly struck free kick from about 23 yards out. Nogueira, who had played her youth soccer locally for CASL and had played for a high school championship on the WakeMed field, hit the top right corner of the goal to tie the score at 1:1 after Kerri Hanks had put Notre Dame ahead.
In some ways the end of the game was a mirror image of the first fifteen minutes. Heading into the final, North Carolina had allowed only one goal in 863 minutes and 15 seconds. Yet it only 15 seconds of the match for Courtney Rosen (Ohio Internationals) to find Kerri Hanks (Dallas Texans) in the box with a ball played over the top of North Carolina’s central defender, Whitney Engen (Slammers). Engen, her wrist and knee wrapped, got caught wrong-footed, and Hanks shot the ball past Rachel Harris (South Brevard United) who may have had briefly lost the ball in the bright mid-afternoon sun.
For the next fifteen minutes Notre Dame Coach Randy Waldrum's troops showed the best way to attack the Heels’ vaunted 3-4-3 formation. With the wind making the balls kicked high take unpredictable trajectories, Rosen and Melissa Henderson (Sting) kept spraying the ball wide and over the top, skipping North Carolina's midfield and putting pressure on Kristi Eveland (Texans) and Rachel Givan (Mississippi United) and exacting repeated corners and throw-ins. When asked which team he would prefer to face, Waldrum joked: "I prefer if they'd just give us the trophy and not make us play." The quick goal and the last-ditch defending by the Tar Heels during the first fifteen minutes seem to suggest that "they" would indeed give Waldrum the College Cup Trophy.
The Tar Heels got their first corner only 15 minutes in. But it was that corner that announced that the trophy was not going to be given away easily. A failed clearance by Notre Dame’s defense almost resulted in a goal. Only defenders diving into the path of three quick shots by North Carolina prevented the Heels from scoring.
The middle third of the first half produced much stand-off play in the middle, with Yael Averbuch (World Class Arsenal) and Tobin Heath (PDA) being put out of sorts by the very aggressive Courtney Rosen who made up the few inches Averbuch has on her by climbing up Averbuch’s back at every opportunity.
By the end of the first half, however, the Tar Heels defenders shortened the field, moved up to the and started gave frequently substituted forwards a chance to do what they are supposed to do in 3-4-3, fatigue the Notre Dame defenders, break down their compactness, and force them into making mistakes. The plan worked very well in the end, as the well-rested Nogueira and Jessica McDonald (Sereno) began to make slicing runs through the tiring Notre Dame back four. After Melissa Henderson got hurt in the 55th minute, Courtney Jones (Mustangs) and Heath joined McDonald and Nogueira in taking dangerous dribbles into increasingly available space. Carrie Dew (San Diego Surf) who was instrumental in holding off Stanford’s barrage against the Irish goal in the semifinal game, again stood out in denying the Tar Heels.
With 2:06 left, Nogueira dribbled down the left side, faked out two opponents and unleashed a wicked shot that rose and dipped off a possible deflection off the defender's foot into top right corner of Lysander's (San Diego Surf) goal.
At the beginning of the game, a consensus was forming in the press box that the two more exciting (if not better) teams had been eliminated in the semifinal. Following Nogueira’s game-winning shot, few were willing to profess to still holding that opinion.
The All-Tournament team featured Nogueira as the most outstanding player on offense and Dew on defense. The other players selected were Stanford's Christen Press ( No Club given), UCLA's Lauren Cheney (Carmel), Notre Dame's Hanks and Lysander, and North Carolina's Engen, Heath, Averbuch, and Britanni Bartok (World Class Arsenal).